The Engineering Announcements was a programme which used to appear on television once a week. It was a “ghost programme” — so called because these were never advertised, never billed in the Radio Times, and never admitted to in the schedules.
You had to know when the broadcast was on and tune in especially, or catch it by accident. Which you might if you had your TV on during the deserts of the day and ITV wasn’t broadcasting anything else. Which it might well not be doing, as it could only broadcast for a certain number of hours a day.
The Engineering Announcements consisted of news and updates for technicians and salespersons in the United Kingdom, whose jobs involved the unbelievably complicated business of setting up and tuning TV sets. The programme was originally produced and transmitted by the ITA (Independent Television Authority). The ITA was born in 1954 as the government regulator of independent television (ie: anything that was not the BBC).
The ITA became the IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority) in 1972. That year, the Sound Broadcasting Act gave the Authority the burden of operating and maintaining the network of transmitters that distributed their radio and TV programmes.
The Engineering Announcements were broadcast from 23 November 1970 until 31 July 1990. They’d begin with opening shots of the IBA building at Crawley Court, then a sonorous announcement:
“And now, from the IBA at Winchester, Engineering Announcements for the Radio and Television trade.”
For years, the announcements aired on Tuesdays at 9.15 am. You’d get 10–15 minutes of news about which transmitters might be operating at “reduced power”, or which were “liable to interruption” if they were undergoing maintenance. Here was where you could get your hot take on woes at Winter Hill, or expected interruptions at Emley Moor.
I used to relish knowing about a crisis at Crystal Palace as I ate my cornflakes even though I had no intention of tuning anything into anything.
The Engineering Announcements were vital information if you were setting up an aerial, and the transmitter you were pointing it at was going dark. You wouldn’t get the signal you’d expect. However, the technical specs were all very mysterious if you’d tuned in to the wrong channel and were expecting Play School.
It felt like you were accidentally receiving secret broadcasts from the True Lords of Television.
As time went by and the hours that TV stations were allowed to broadcast in the UK increased, the opportunities to catch the hidden programme decreased. There was no place in the broadcast schedule for anything to be hidden any more. The Announcements eventually disappeared entirely: transmitter information was for a while distributed over teletext, but eventually, in time, even that evaporated.
The Broadcasting Act of 1990 disbanded the IBA, and the Engineering Announcements died alongside this demise. The transmitter operations were privatised under a company called NTL (National Transcommunications Limited) which was subsequently sold — as most silver in the UK cabinet always is — and renamed Arqiva.
I still miss not knowing what is going on at Winter Hill during Tuesday mornings as I eat my cornflakes. I mourn my long-lost IBA secret society.
You can see the last Engineering Announcements here: